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Answering the Why

As we're building the Earthwagon, many people ask us WHY we are building a tiny house. With everyone trying to navigate some type of debt, things can feel a little discouraging when it comes to home ownership. At around $250,000 (YIKES!), the median cost of home ownership in the US is staggering with wage/job growth sluggish compared to inflation. If you throw into play the desire to live a sustainable/minimal lifestyle, it may feel like you run out of options fast.

Blake and I were feeling that pressure. Add to that, all the aggravation of the ever-rising cost of apartment living and we were rattling our brains trying to figure out the next best move. We want to live a sustainable life with an ecofriendly home and plenty of fresh air. 

In all honesty, there are too many different reasons people decide to go tiny to name them all here, but I'll share here some of the main reasons people choose to downsize.

Living an Eco-Conscious Life
Did you know that over the last 40 years, the average US house size has increased in size by more than 1,000 square feet? The typical square footage is now lingering around 2,687 square feet and building a home this size takes a lot of resources.

With a tiny home, much less material is used and so you can easily incorporate reclaimed or sustainable materials into the structure. Larger homes are typically not very energy efficient, but when you build your own home you can make energy efficiency and green technology a priority.

Utilizing solar and wind power in combination with tiny living can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Most tiny homes use composting toilets and therefore don’t generate any black water. It is also easy to reuse your gray-water and be aware of your water usage when living tiny.

Less House and More Home
When I think of all the “stuff and things” that we own, I get a little overwhelmed. One of the most exciting aspects of this project for me is that I get to sort through everything I have and keep the possessions that I find useful and meaningful, and donate the rest! Switching to life in a small space means reevaluating your lifestyle habitats and making changes accordingly.

I know letting go can be hard, but I believe acknowledging that things are really just “things” and deciphering between need and want is critical for happiness. Ever since we found out about Baby Moore, I've been thinking about this a lot more. I want Baby Moore to recognize what is really important and not be so wrapped up in material consumption like too many people are today. Our children learn by example and I know choosing this lifestyle over any other is the best way to show our tiny human that less is truly more.

Enjoy Flexibility
Many people choose the tiny life so they can be on the move. With a tiny home, you can go wherever you please and possibly even work while traveling. A lot of us aren’t exactly sure where we want to settle, but tiny house communities are popping up all around the country! You can switch it up and always have a place to park your home.

A lot of people love this aspect of tiny living, and if this is your main reason for going tiny I would suggest checking out Jenna, or "that tiny house girl’s" story at Tiny House Giant Journey. She built her own tiny and has traveled the country with it!

Experience Freedom
As I mentioned previously, home ownership is expensive. A tiny home is a lot more financially attainable, and therefore can give you much more freedom. Freedom to think about all the time you'll save not having to keep up with such a large space. Freedom to pay off your home in years instead of decades. Freedom to move about.

All in all, it means you can spend more time doing the things you love! Rather it be spending time with family and loved ones, traveling, pursing hobbies and passions, or maybe even helping others accomplish their dreams of tiny house living, you will not feel like your home is draining your time and bank account.

Customize Based on Your Wants and Needs
Many people have also asked, “Why not just get an RV?” and the answer simply comes down to longevity. For one, our tiny home is built to last (RV’s are generally not designed for full-time living). We want our home to last a lifetime and you just can’t get that type of quality out of an RV.

I really love that we can tailor the wagon to our needs and incorporate our own personal style and be creative with our home. We are building our tiny house to fit our needs and wants:

  • a place for Baby Moore to feel comfy
  • a large kitchen space a lot of counter space
  • comfortable bathroom with five-foot tub
  • a full-size refrigerator and air conditioning
  • a wood stove and propane hot water heater
  • a place for our huge California king (couldn’t give that up!)
  • storage compartments incorporated just about everywhere
  • off grid capabilities (This is a huge one for us!)

So, we designed the wagon with these things as priorities and had to sacrifice in other areas. Since we want to spend more time outdoors and plan on adding a large patio around the wagon, we decided that we could live without much indoor relaxing space.

The reasons for minimizing your footprint are numerous and will vary from person to person. I believe that there is really no clear definition for “tiny house" and have heard from pioneers of the movement such as Dee Williams and Jay Shafer that “tiny” is different for everyone! If you know what your wants and goals are, having a home of any size that helps you achieve those goals is what it is all about!

Tiny House Utilities

With a conventional house you can put in a utility room, there’s plenty of space for any hot water heater and furnace options. You can figure out most details of the installation later, not with a tiny house. Everything fits together more like a puzzle so you really have to know what you will be piecing together BEFORE you begin building. So, BEFORE cannot be overstated.

Ethan Waldman got the tiny bug in 2011 and, over fourteen short months, built his tiny home in Vermont during 2012 to 2013. He parked it, has lived in the same spot ever since and loves it. For a DIY or first time THOW builder, there are a number of things he highly recommends thinking through BEFORE beginning a tiny house. His guide and videos are an excellent resource for anyone interested in tiny house living.

During a presentation at the Tiny House Jamboree 2017 in Arlington, Ethan gave a seminar that presented tiny house utilities as 9 systems decisions that you need to make BEFORE you build your tiny house. Building a tiny house shares a lot with building a conventional house, but with a tiny house you really, really have to figure out how they’re going to fit Inside the tiny house BEFORE you start building.

  • ·         Fuel
  • ·         Water
  • ·         Showers
  • ·         Freeze Protection
  • ·         Heat
  • ·         Toilet
  • ·         Electricity
  • ·         Refrigerator
  • ·         Ventilation

The decisions that you make designing the layout of your tiny house affect how you will live and what your lifestyle is going to be like. I’ve spent countless hours learning these principles of tiny decisions since when I first set out designing the Earthwagon and Ethan was able to sum it all up in an hour or so. There is so much to know and learn, I will do my best to present it here in a short series of posts based on the approach Ethan recommends when beginning your own tiny project.

Fuel - Propane, electricity and wood

Propane burns clean and hot and is widely available at convenience and grocery stores. Propane has a lot of uses and a wide variety of options exist for any situation. Stoves, water heaters and furnaces can all be run on propane.

Propane can be dangerous so it is important that you call a plumber to install and connect your lines. It can be a little complex and expensive when compared to an electric heater. Propane will require a more permanent installation and of course propane is the fossil fuel so there are environmental concerns with burning propane.

Depending on your demand for propane you will also need an appropriately sized tank. The small 20-pound sized propane tank that you would use for your barbecue grill doesn’t produce enough head pressure for high Btu heaters. 100-pound tanks are the same diameter but are several feet tall.

CAUTION: Do not buy a vent less heater for a tiny home. They do not exhaust to the outside and carbon monoxide can build up quickly in a small space.  They are inexpensive and high Btu, but they are designed for sheds, barns, open garages and other open spaces. On the same note, there are combination propane/CO alarms that are designed for marine use and they are highly recommended if you use gas heat.

Electric heater units are much cheaper to buy and can come as heat pumps, oil filled radiators, radiant panels, thermal mass radiant and all kinds of other options depending on how much heating you need, what your budget is and where you live. The big downfall is that they are much less efficient so, depending on what climate zone you live in, the cost to heat with electric may not be cost effective. It can cost 2-3x as much to heat with electricity but in more temperate zones, where an electric space heater is all you need to take the chill out in the morning and is off the rest of the day, it may be sensible to use electric for heating the tiny house.

The high energy demand of any source of electric heat make combining with a solar system especially disadvantageous. It’s highly unlikely that you will want the size of solar array and battery bank you would need for heavy usage of electric heaters.

Wood is the third option. It can be environmentally friendly, reliable source of fuel and is very aesthetically appealing. The wood stoves are very cozy. They also need a lot of space. Because wood stoves are designed to radiate heat from the hot metal surface, the couch, cabinets, walls and other combustible materials cannot be within 12”-24” depending on the particular stove. Space is a precious commodity with smaller homes but providing enough clearance is extremely important that cannot be understated.

A considerable downside to heating with wood is burn time. Wood must be manually fed into the stove and during extended periods away, freezing weather can wreak havoc on an unheated structure. Heat protects your pipe from freezing so in colder climates, after 7-8 hours the house will quickly begin to cool down.

Combining wood with a backup heat source is yet another space consideration. Wood is a great off-grid solution but again a conundrum exists because most off-grid setups use solar. With the wagon, our ductless mini-split is both an A/C and heater so my solution includes a generator backup in case the winter sun doesn’t provide enough energy to keep the space above 50F.

So how cold is your climate and how much work do you want to do? Do you want to be chopping firewood or switching out propane tanks, or would you rather just set the thermostat and forget about it? There are a lot of options to consider and each situation will have unique requirements, but in the case of all tiny builds one thing is consistent. Decide before you begin building!